The Green Bay Packers got a pair of miracles to tie their divisional round playoff game with the Arizona Cardinals at the end of regulation, but ultimately suffered another heartbreaking postseason loss just three plays into the overtime period of another instant classic.
Green Bay entered the fourth quarter of the game clinging to a 13-10 lead over the Cardinals, with the defense keeping the league’s number two scoring offense largely in check. But with just under four minutes remaining in regulation, Carson Palmer led the Cardinals on a 14-play drive that gave Arizona a 17-10 lead.
Palmer was given a number of extra chances on the drive, especially after Sam Shields dropped what could have easily been a red zone interception. Just three plays after Shields’ missed pick, Palmer threw a pass across the middle that was deflected and found its way into wide receiver Michael Floyd’s hands for the score.
Green Bay went four-and-out on its ensuing drive, which appeared to have ended the Packers’ chances. But the Cardinals inexplicably had Palmer pass the ball, stopping the clock, and Green Bay held Arizona to a field goal to get one more chance with just under two minutes remaining.
On the Packers’ final drive, quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw two incomplete passes and was sacked for the first time all night to bring up fourth and 20 from their own 4-yard line. Green Bay’s chances were looking slimmer and slimmer.
Then Rodgers, working with a wide receiving corps of just Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, and James Jones, began to work his magic. Janis broke free on fourth down for a 61-yard gain after he was inexplicably left open. Just two plays later, Rodgers evaded a Cardinals’ blitz and lofted a pass high into the end zone. Janis beat two defenders to come away with the Hail Mary touchdown that would stand after a review to send the game into overtime.
But that’s where the miracles would end for the Packers. After the Cardinals won the coin toss and took the ball, they needed just three plays to end the game. Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 75-yard gain on a blown coverage that took the ball to the Green Bay five yard line, and two plays later Fitzgerald was in the end zone to end the game.
For the second straight season, the Packers have lost their postseason game in overtime without even getting a chance to possess the ball.
The Packers were seven-point underdogs entering the game, but went toe-to-toe with the league’s best offense for the entire game. Green Bay outgained Arizona 386-368, and there was just a 37 second difference in time of possession.
The game featured two strong defensive efforts at the beginning before the offenses got hot in the second half. Arizona scored a touchdown on its second possession of the game, and eight-yard score by Michael Floyd, but was held scoreless for the rest of the first half. Meanwhile, Green Bay’s only points of the first two quarters came on a pair of Mason Crosby field goals.
The second half began with Aaron Rodgers throwing an interception on the Packers’ first drive, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off Palmer to give Green Bay the ball back just three plays later. Green Bay made sure to take advantage of its second chance. Following a season-long run of 61 yards by Eddie Lacy, Rodgers hit Janis from eight yards away for the receiver’s first non-preseason touchdown of his career.
The Packers led 13-10 and would maintain that advantage until the memorable events of the fourth quarter unfolded. But when all was said and done, the Packers met the same fate they’ve had since 2013: postseason losses on the final play of the game.
Green Bay’s defense played admirably for the majority of the game, as they did for most of the season, but could not get one final stop with everything on the line. While the end result is disappointing, the team did overcome a lot of adversity to be in a position to upset the number two seed in the NFC.
Number one receiver Randall Cobb suffered a chest injury that knocked him out the game early, leaving the Packers’ already depleted receiving corps with just three receivers. James Jones did not record a catch in the game, leaving the bulk of the offensive production to Abbrederis and Janis. The two unproven receivers stepped up to the challenge and gave Green Bay an opportunity to win.
Rodgers ended the game completing 24/44 passes for 261 yards, including 101—yes, 101—on the team’s final drive, with two touchdowns and an interceptions. Lacy led the running game with 89 yards on 12 carries, while Janis had by far the best game of his career, seven catches for 145 yards and two scores, to lead the receiving corps.
Palmer threw for 349 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions for the Cardinals, and was sacked three times by a Green Bay defense that put the quarterback under a lot of pressure. Arizona’s rushing game was rendered ineffective, managing just 40 total yards. Fitzgerald ended the game with 176 yards and the game-winning touchdown, while Floyd caught Palmer’s two other scores for the Cardinals.
For a season that started with such high expectations and endured a tough second half of the year, there is much reason to be optimistic for the Packers. Green Bay was without many of its top weapons and still almost emerged with its second straight NFC Championship appearance. The defense played at a high level all season, and the offense will presumably be better next year with the return of Jordy Nelson.
For now, the Packers are left to regroup after tying the game on a miraculous Hail Mary and falling short of the Super Bowl for the fifth straight season.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .